Friday, July 08, 2016

Chapter 16 - Summer 2016!

Funny thing, this full-time cross-country traveling. Before we began house sitting, a 3-hour drive somewhere would require a nap once we arrived. But Aunt Martha's house is 150 miles away! If we make this trip we're gonna need to get a hotel. Now, after crossing the U.S. for the 4th time in 18 months, we look at a drive from Minneapolis to St. Louis and say, Hey, that's only 9 hours. After we get there we should go out for dinner and a movie or something!

In my last post I noted that we would be staying in Point of Rocks, MD, which we did, and was as fabulous as one would expect. It was fabulous because it was nestled right smack in the middle of a very historic part of the country. For example, Harper's Ferry is only a few minutes away and has a fascinating, albeit very bloody, civil war history. And of course Washington, DC was only a short 45 minutes southeast of us, so we were able to hop down there a few times and knock off the big checklist items that everyone should see, including a beautiful afternoon in a duck boat on the Potomac!

Washington Memorial from Potomac River

And then, just like Lewis and Clark themselves, our expedition took us from Washington DC back here to Portland, with the exception that we didn't almost die of starvation or freeze to death in Montana... or need to wait 6 months before we could continue across the Rockies. But other than that it was exactly the same.

Lewis and Clark didn't have to deal with all that road construction
See?... just like them. Lewis and Clark had to battle the Missouri River upstream for 2500 miles, and we had to battle headwinds in our Prius. Same thing.

And then there's Portland... ahh, sweet, sweet Portland. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

In our journey as wanderers we keep a pros and cons checklist of things we like or dislike about a city. We do this because believe it or not, we actually do plan on owning a home again someday... we just don't know where. Or when. Or what. Although we have ruled out a yurt as an option. That being said, there are a few cities that stand out as potential future home-base candidates, and Portland is definitely one of them. What's so special about Portland you ask? Well let me tell you!

Top 10 Favorite Things About Portland:

1. A really cool downtown with all the "big city" kinds of things you'd ever want... great businesses, pubs, bookstores, parks, a world-class river walk and...

2. FOOD! OMG SO MUCH FOOD! Portland literally has a restaurant of one kind or another every six inches. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration but it does have a LOT of restaurants.

3. And not only regular restaurants, but food trucks galore. Whether you're smack in the center of downtown or in any of the surrounding neighborhoods or suburbs, you will find pods of these amazing food trucks and trailers everywhere. And the best part is they have food for every palate. And they're adorable.


4. Lots of chic little neighborhoods. For example, the renovated Alberta Main Street Arts District in NE Portland is packed with every kind of charming little shop you could ever imagine - for nearly a mile!

5. The weather is perfect. Well, except for the rainy days and the gray, damp winters... but when it's not those things it's pretty darn perfect.

6. There are NO bugs! And to clarify, when a person from Minnesota says there are no bugs he means that you can actually be outside on a nice summer evening and not be stabbed to death by mosquitoes. This point alone ranks very high on our "pros" list for any city we evaluate.

7. The area is freaking gorgeous. Whether you're right inside the city at the rose garden or Forest Park, hiking through any one of the hundreds of nearby trails, or simply just looking at a snow-capped peak on the horizon, the area around Portland is among the most beautiful in the country.

8. The hiking is amazing. Just a short drive from the city center will put you on any number of stunning trails in the area. One state park has you walking past 11 waterfalls alone, two of which you walk behind! And for those of you who desire buns of steel, there are endless hill, waterfall and mountain climbs to be had in every direction.

High above a lava field near Mount St. Helens
9. Mass transportation options galore. For someone like me who doesn't like to drive in bumper-to-bumper traffic, being able to take one of the many rail systems or multiple bus lines is a huge benefit. Charli and I have taken the train from the 'burbs to downtown Portland several times and it just makes everything nice and easy.

10. It's weird! Yes, the stereotype is true. Portland is weird in all kinds of ways. The people are weird, the shops are weird, the art is weird and the attitude is weird. Even the life-long friends we've made here are weird, but then that's only because they chose us as friends.

So what's next for the traveling Jeff and Charli show? Why Canada of course! That's right... in just a few days we will haul anchor from Portland and spend the next couple of weeks in beautiful North Vancouver, British Columbia. That is if they let us in. I always worry that we will accidentally leave an old banana under the seat or something, and then they will detain and interrogate us and dunk our heads in buckets of maple syrup until we confess that we put it there on purpose.

But then again what could be worse than the torture we've already endured from Canada...

Who, me?

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Saturday, May 07, 2016

Chapter 15 - New England

As I mentioned in my last post, after we left Santa Fe we headed straight up to Marlboro, VT. Well, we did stop in PA and have lunch with my dear old friend Kathy, her sister Ann AND (believe it or not) her elusive husband Dave! What a treat it is to be able to stop along the way and spend a few hours with old blog buddies. A real bonus benefit of living on the road!


Marlboro was great. We lived in a large, beautiful home with 2 German shorthaired pointers and a drooly cat named Lexus. Hannah was very old (I think 13-ish) but Bella was still a youngster (around 3) and acted like it. I'm pretty sure that given the opportunity, Bella would have stayed outside and ran non-stop for 12 hours. I've never seen an animal with so much energy. One of her favorite things to do was to have us fling a tennis ball 100 feet or so across the yard using a... uh... tennis ball flinger. Yeah that's it. We later named the game "spitty ball" because by the time she had recovered it 20 or 30 times it was, you guessed it, pretty much soaking wet.

Hannah

Lexus, not sure about the hand I just played

Bella with her spitty ball
We really enjoyed our stay in Marlboro as it was in a very remote part of VT during a cold/drizzly/messy part of spring, so we took advantage of the opportunity to just relax and decompress for a couple of months. No big excursions or exciting adventures, but quiet time in front of the fireplace and remote walks through the woods. A very peaceful and relaxing house sit.

And then... BAM!... Boston, Massachusetts! Well Hull, to be precise, but Boston is just out our front window. Literally. This house sits right on the shore of Boston Harbor looking out over the big city skyline and we are in love with this little town. Everywhere you go there is water on either side of you with marinas every mile. Big ships and tug boats pass in front of our house on a daily basis and the sail boats are starting to emerge, like a new spring hatch on the water. Charli and I walk or run the shoreline roads every day and are soaking up the endless charm.

Just one of the many thousands of sunset pics we have of Boston... from our front porch!

And then there's Baahston itself... just a 30 min ferry or 45 min train ride from town. Two things about Boston...
1. the people there are super friendly
2. everyone sounds like someone doing an impression of themselves

Because we only have 2 cats to care for here, we have the luxury of heading out on a Saturday morning and spending the majority of the day there. We've gone over several times now and each time have walked over 8 miles within the city. We can't get enough of the place, as I'm sure anyone who has ever lived there or visited can attest to. Boston is just amazing, and that's all I can say about it.

Row houses on Newbury Street
"The Commander's Own Drum and Bugle Corp" at Bunker Hill

Hanging with my BFF B. F.

Taking the ferry home at night
But alas, our visit has come to an end all too soon and now next week we must haul anchor and set sail for our next port (see what I did there?)... Point of Rocks, MD. We are, of course, very excited to experience this historic railroad town just outside of Washington, DC and will be packing up soon to do so. But we still have a good 10 days left here in Hull to take advantage of the area before we have to leave.

In fact, today we went up to Salem for yet another historic day of sight seeing with an amazing National Park tour of the tall sailing ship Friendship, the infamous House of the Seven Gables and a VERY thorough walking tour covering the history of the Salem witch trials.

The Friendship

Me, not actually steering the Friendship

The House of an Unnecessary Number of Gables

My biggest challenge with Salem however was to suppress all the Monty Python quotes from the witch scene in the Holy Grail. I'm sure Charli didn't mind though. After all, there's nothing she enjoys more than hearing me do bad impressions from the movie.

"How do you know she is a witch?" "SHE LOOKS LIKE ONE!"

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Monday, January 25, 2016

Chapter 14 - 2016!

Happy New Year everyone!

2015 has been amazing. I've pretty much run out of adjectives to describe the things we've experienced over the last year... so now I just say everything is amazing. The homes are amazing, the pets are amazing, the cities are amazing and the home owners themselves are... you guessed it... AMAZING!

When we started our first house sit in January 2015, we knew right away that it was going to be a fun ride, but we never imagined how amaz incredible the first year would actually be. House sitting has far exceeded our expectations in every way and we are super psyched to forge on into 2016 and beyond. ESPECIALLY now that we see what's in front of us. I mean come on... take a look at this!

2016
Santa Fe, NM This is where we are currently living. Before we even arrived the owner gave us a warning... "Just beware, once you come to Santa Fe you will fall in love with it and will end up living here later!" We laughed and felt good about the message behind her comment... that it sounded like a really nice place to live. 

Typical gallery on Canyon Road
Now, after living here for the last few weeks, we're starting to wonder if she isn't right. Santa Fe truly is under the Land of Enchantment's spell and is nearly impossible to resist. Just a few blocks away is the world famous Canyon Road district, home to over 200 art galleries of every style. These charming adobe shops are packed with oils, watercolors, sculptures, weaves, abstracts and on and on. You can spend days just wandering around and seeing beautiful artwork inside the galleries, out on the sidewalks, on the sides of buildings and on walls. Art is EVERYWHERE here and it is fantastic.

AND... in addition to the human art, nature's art is abundant. Whether you're simply walking the inner city trails of Santa Fe or exploring any one of the dozens of national or state parks within an hour, you will enjoy spectacular places such as this.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument
Honestly, we love this place. The weather is mild, the people are nice and the nature is crazy beautiful. So who knows, maybe when the time is right our home owner's prophecy will come true, and then we will gladly hear her tell us "I told you so!"

Marlboro, VT After we leave Santa Fe we head straight east across the country to the city of Marlboro VT. Population 978!

We really enjoy the upper north east area and are looking forward to spending time in this quaint little New England town, caring for this quaint little New England home...

I just hope we'll be comfortable. You know how claustrophobic those tiny houses can be.

Hull, MA Following Marlboro, we head down to the Boston area, where we will have the pleasure of living right on Boston Harbor, in the beautiful peninsula village of Hull, Massachusetts.

The arrow is pointing to our future house sit
(click to enlarge)
Here you can see the Boston skyline, right from the upper deck. We are especially excited about this gig because we've always wanted to live on the water, and this house is literally on the shore.

Boston skyline from the deck
Hopefully we won't have to live through one of those legendary nor'easters you hear about!

Ok, maybe just one.

Point of Rocks, MD The last stop on the east coast leg of Jeff and Charli's House Sitting Across America tour is the Washington DC area. Here we will be just a block away from the Potomac River in the historic B&O Railroad town of Point of Rocks, Maryland. This will provide us an opportunity to take the train down into DC and do some long overdue sightseeing of our nation's capital.


It should be interesting to be in this area. I understand there's some kind of election going on this year. I guess I'll have to look into that a little deeper to see what that's all about.

Portland, OR Of course what would a national tour be without a hop across the US. After finishing up in Point of Rocks, we will charge up the ol' Prius and zoom back across the country to one of our favorite spots of 2015... Portland, OR! Here you will find us nestled right up against the Lewis and Clark Rose Garden and beautiful Willamette River with the entrance to the River View Natural Area trails just a few yards down the road. And the best part?... We get to see all the old friends we made the last time we were there! Yay us!

Vancouver, BC, Canada What's after Portland? Why Vancouver Canada of course! This is a particularly exciting one for us because we view it as our first trial run for house sitting internationally. Our goal in the next 2 years is to "hop over the pond" and see what damage we can do in Europe, and Vancouver will be the perfect place to test out the logistics of working from another country.

As well, we also know how beautiful it is, after taking a cruise ship to Alaska from there about 10 years ago. In fact, during the interview process with the home owners, they were kind enough to turn their Skype around and show us the view from their balcony, and low and behold there was the port of Vancouver. Gulp!

Evergreen, CO Our final date to wrap up this summer will take us to the amazing (ok, it's been long enough, I can use it again) town of Evergreen, Colorado. To us, Colorado is a magnet we cannot resist. We first spent our honeymoon there, then visited several times with our kids on vacations, and recently had an incredible house sit in Ridgway, CO. And from what we've seen from the home owner, this one will be awesome as well. In fact, we had the pleasure of spending some time with her when she was down in Phoenix on business, and we are really excited to get to know her better and care for her beautiful home in one of our favorite places on earth... the majestic Rocky Mountains!

And there you have it... 2016 as we know it so far. We hope you are enjoying reading about our journey because our plan is to keep on trucking as long as people will have us.

So until next time!

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chapter 13 - Pets of 2015

2015 has been an amazing year for us. From Connecticut to California we have had the pleasure of caring for these 13 beautiful animals. This, my  friends, is the REAL reward of house sitting!

(click and magnify to see them up close and personal)

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Chapter 12 - Lees trade their stuff for an adventure

(reprinted with permission of the St. Cloud Times)

Lees trade their stuff for an adventure
Dave DeLand, ddeland@stcloudtimes.com 10:02 a.m. CDT August 30, 2015

(Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
Their kids had flown the nest.

The nest was way too big, and filled with too much stuff.

So, Charli and Jeff Lee got rid of it.

All of it — the house, the furniture, the contents, almost every trapping of their 26-year marriage.

Then they left St. Cloud to go on an adventure.

“We feel like kids again,” Charli said. “Our kids laugh at us — they think we’re acting like kids.”

“Let’s shake it up a little bit,” said Jeff from their current residence — a beautiful home in scenic Port Townsend, Washington, which overlooks Puget Sound.

“He and his wife are very adventuresome to do this — sell everything and start moving around,” added Pete Nelson, Jeff’s band mate in two of his St. Cloud musical incarnations. “They’ve got a wandering spirit, apparently.”

After a quarter-century of marriage, work and raising their three kids, Charli and Jeff started a new phase in life — one that’s already taken them from coast to coast, and eventually might take them across Europe.

They’re now full-time house sitters. That’s literally been a trip — to really nice homes in really nice places, with more already on their docket.

“We decided instead of us selling and immediately re-buying, why don’t we put the money in the bank for a while, and play a little bit?” said Jeff, 54. “Let’s go do some house-sitting and see how that works out.”

“You spend 25 years focused on raising your kids,” said Charli, 51. “You just sit there and look at each other, keep going to the same restaurants, keep doing the exact same thing.

“You can get bored with each other, or you can say, ‘Let’s take an adventure.’ ”

The adventure required bravery, and flexibility, and togetherness.

It also required imagination. That’s how this got started.

Planting a seed

The Lees moved to St. Cloud in 1991, raised their kids (Brandon, 24; Austin, 23; Rosie, 19) and worked their jobs — hers in the fraud department at Capital One, his as a computer programmer.

Jeff now works as a project manager for IBM, a job he can do almost anywhere.

(Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
 “He just needs a computer, cellphone and the Internet,” Nelson said.

That was part of the genesis of the house-sitting idea. It began three years ago, when Charli and Jeff were driving to the West Coast to deliver their sons’ possessions.

“We just had so much fun,” Charli said. “He worked in the passenger’s seat. I drove all day. We figured that we could do it — we could travel, and he could still do his job.”

At about the same time, Charli read a blog written by a house sitter who had traveled all over Europe with her husband and seven kids.

“I thought it sounded good,” she said. “Jeff thought I was crazy.”

“Which she is,” Jeff added.

Just crazy enough, it turns out, to give house-sitting a test run.

Goodbye, stuff

During the summer of 2013, a friend of Jeff’s needed a house sitter at his home on the island of Hawaii. Charli and Jeff did a two-week stint that lit the fuse.

“The Hawaii thing was a good start. It gave me an idea of what it’s really like to house-sit,” Jeff said. “It becomes your own home when you’re doing it.”

And so, with Rosie entering her senior year at St. Cloud Technical High School, the Lees began downsizing their world.

“He was a horrible hoarder,” said Charli, who took an estimated 12 carloads of stuff to Catholic Charities. “We gave most of it away. It was 100 percent liberating.”

“It also was a little bit of shakes while we were doing it,” Jeff said. “As a guy, I had a whole shop that was full of amazing tools, right?

“In the end, I justified it by saying, ‘This is just stuff.’ When I settle down again and I have a place, I can get more stuff.”

The Lees hosted a couple rummage sales, and sold their house as it was staged — furniture and household items included. They stored personal mementos at Jeff’s parents’ home in Duluth.

Letting go of the music was a little harder.

“The immediate reaction from all my musician friends was ‘Oh no,’ ” said Jeff, who had played keyboards and harp with Nelson in The Receders and as Nelson/Lee since 2002. He also played in a variety of tribute shows with Justin Ploof & The Throwbacks, and with Collective Unconscious.

“I found it kind of a surprise, because Jeff had such a rich musical life,” Nelson said. “There was a little bit of disbelief when it actually happened.”

Their house sold late last fall. On Dec. 14, the Lees loaded up their car and hit the road.

Road trip

First stop was a three-month stint in South Kent, Connecticut. Like all the ensuing stops, it was a cash-free transaction.

“We don’t receive money, and the homeowners don’t receive money,” Charli said. “They’re getting somebody who’s doing it for the excitement of living in a nice place, and exploring their town. We’re getting a nice house that we don’t have to pay anything to live in.”

Charli monitors five websites daily for postings to apply for.

“She’s our screener and our schedule-keeper,” Jeff said. “To keep it so we don’t have gaps and we’re not crisscrossing the country every other time is a challenge.”

After Connecticut, they house-sat in the Sacramento, California area for a month ... took a one-week vacation to Yosemite, Sequoia National Forest and the Grand Canyon ... and house-sat for a month in Ridgway, Colorado.

They returned to Minnesota on July 1, to house-sit in Northfield and to enable Jeff to play at the Takin’ It To The Streets Festival on Aug. 1. Two days later, they left for Washington.

“Everything has been absolutely fantastic in its way,” Charli said. “Every one has been so different.”

Pets are a commonality. Almost every home includes at least one.

“Dogs, cats, birds, rats, everything,” Jeff said. “Every house has a pet with a personality. That’s what makes it so cool. You get to experience the best of pets without actually owning one.”

Charli Lee looks over the Grand Canyon during a vacation break between house-sitting gigs.
(Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
They’ve also made a whole bunch of new buddies.

“Every single homeowner has become a dear friend,” Charli said. “There’s so much trust that’s put into you.

“By the time they come home, you feel like they’re long-lost friends.”

Advance planning

After their six-week stay in Port Townsend, the Lees have a seven-week stint in Portland, Oregon, starting Sept. 30.

Then it’s on to Phoenix for two weeks, followed by two weeks off in mid-December.

“We’re gonna go back to Minnesota, celebrate a little Christmas early, and then we’ll go back to the same house in Phoenix,” Jeff said. “We’ll be there for two more weeks.”

Santa Fe, New Mexico, is next. After that, there’s a gig in Vermont that will take them into April.

“And then we don’t know,” Charli said. “It got a little out of control, because Jeff wrote a blog the Huffington Post picked up. We started getting emails and requests from that blog. We were booked out eight months.

“We try to keep it closer to three months, because you have a little more control if something happens.”

Actually, something did.

Healthy inspiration

In late 2013, Jeff was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition while undergoing a routine colonoscopy.

“If he didn’t have a colonoscopy,” Charli said, “it would have been cancer.”

“The thing I’m struggling with is fortunately benign,” Jeff said, “but it’s persistent.”

The diagnosis didn’t necessarily prompt the Lees’ decision to change direction, but it certainly didn’t dissuade them.

“If you’re asking are we trying to travel because we’re healthy now, that’s part of it,” Jeff said. “But it wasn’t specifically around that.

Charli, left, daughter Rosie and Jeff Lee spent two weeks in Hawaii during their first house-sitting gig in the summer of 2013. (Photo: Courtesy of Jeff and Charli Lee)
“We hear stories every day about people that wait until they’re 65 or 70 to retire, and then a couple months later somebody is dying.”

“My mom did die, at 62, from colon cancer,” Charli said. “They had just started talking about their big retirement plans, and where they wanted to travel. Then she passed away. So it is an influence.”

It’s an inspiration, for them both, to take advantage of their relative youth and health.

“I’d rather work a simple job (when older) if I need to, to make our retirement last longer,” Charli said, “than use up all my great health to save for retirement that I may or may not even make.”

No end in sight

So, away they went.

Charli says it’s a little like dating. “We’re exploring things, and have new things to talk about.”

“Our goals are to get to some cool, exotic places,” Jeff said. “We’d love to be able to house-sit in Manhattan, in Central Park.”

After that, the Lees would like to find a long-term house-sitting job somewhere in the U.S., enabling Charli to get a job and help finance a subsequent European house-sitting junket.

“People say, ‘How long are you going to do it?’ Well, until it doesn’t make sense, or it’s not fun any more,” Jeff said. “It hasn’t been anything but amazing, so why stop, right?”

“Right now, we have no desire to settle down,” Charli said. “It’s been the greatest thing ever.”

Even better than all that ... stuff.

Contact Times columnist Dave DeLand at 255-8771 or by email at ddeland@stcloudtimes.com. Follow him on Twitter @davedeland and on Facebook at Dave DeLand SC Times.

Additional Photo Gallery









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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Chapter 11 - House Sitting Nuts and Bolts

I'm always fascinated by how fascinated people are by what we're doing.

It doesn't seem to matter who we talk to or where we are... when we tell someone that we got rid of all our possessions and travel full time as house sitters, people immediately stop what they're doing and start firing questions at us:
- what did you do with all your stuff?
- how does it work?
- how do find these places?
- do you travel in a RV?
- what did you do with all your stuff?

We also get a lot of questions from people who want to do this for real themselves, and they have more specific questions related to the "nuts and bolts" of making it happen. So in response to them, here are the dirty details of how to be a full time house sitter.

Web Sites
The first question people normally ask is "How do you find the houses to sit for?" The fact is, there are dozens of web sites devoted to house sitting, but we've narrowed our searches down to these five:

http://www.mindmyhouse.com  $20/yr - and you can only see the available house sits if you're a member

http://www.luxuryhousesitting.com  $25/yr - you can browse available houses before paying but you must register in order to apply for one. This is the same for the next 3 as well.

http://www.housesittersamerica.com  $30/yr

https://www.housecarers.com  $50/yr

http://www.trustedhousesitters.com/us/  $114/yr

We've found that using these 5 web sites together provides us the best opportunity to sweep for available sits. Sure, $239 (total) sounds expensive but considering the fact you are living RENT FREE every year, it's really not that much money. Certainly cheaper than even one month's worth of rent/mortgage or even a hotel if you use one of these for vacations.

When we are trying to fill our schedule, Charli checks each of these sites at least 4 times per day. It's amazing how many people respond to a desirable opportunity. We've had some owners tell us they get 50 applications within a few hours and become so overwhelmed by responses that they pull their ad or start ignoring the emails. That's why you have to be quick on the trigger, otherwise you can miss the perfect house sit for your plan.

Note: There are many other web sites as well for this, but these are the 5 we've settled on which have worked great for us.

Your Profile
The most important thing a house sitter needs is a good profile. This will be the first piece of information a home owner will look at to determine if you make the cut as a candidate. In our profile we provide a friendly picture, a reason why we house sit, background information about us personally and professionally, and the reasons why we would be good house sitters for the owners and their pets. Think of it as a personal resume. Giving up their home and pets to complete strangers is a huge leap of faith for a home owner, so your profile needs to convey the sincerity and trust that they are looking at the right people for the job.

Getting Selected
After you've registered with a web site and applied for a house sit, the steps for being chosen as a house sitter can be different for every situation. Typically the process involves an initial response from the owner in a message from the web site indicating they would like to learn more about you, which is then followed by a few emails. From there an owner may request a phone call to conduct an interview, and sometimes this is done via Facetime or Skype.

Once the owners are comfortable you aren't ax murderers, the details of the engagement will be discussed. This is when you find out the specifics about the pets, house, gardens etc and the expectations of the owners. This is also when the deal is normally closed and the sit can be locked in on your calendar.

Checklist
A few weeks before arriving at the house, we provide the owners with a list of items we like them to review so we can make sure we have all the information necessary to care for their pets and home. A few examples of what we want to know are:
  • Pets - food, meds, vet info, feeding/walking schedules, personality quirks
  • Property maintenance - lawn and garden care
  • Emergency - pet hospital, plumber, water main shutoff, breaker box
  • Schedules - garbage/recycling, lawn service, pest control
  • Technical - wifi password, router location, how to program the thermostat, how to turn on the 5 different remotes needed to watch a TV show
  • Local information - best restaurants, events, car repair
Before, During and After
Normally we find that arriving 2 days early makes for the best transition. On the first day we like to get there in the afternoon and spend the evening just relaxing and getting to know each other. The next day is spent going over all the details listed above and the owners preparing for their travels.

After the owners have left we keep them updated with frequent emails on how things are going, including pictures of their pets. They appreciate knowing that everything is being taken care of and the interaction helps form a stronger bond between us.

We have found with every house sit that by the time we leave, we have gained new lifelong friends who we always look forward to seeing again.

When the owners return home we plan it so that we will leave the next morning. This gives us the day to update each other on how it went at home and what they did on their vacation. We want to make sure that we turn their house back over to them as quickly as possible so they can get their lives back to normal without having to worry about guests.

Reviews
After every house sit it's important to collect a review from the owner and add it to your profile. Accumulating good reviews is the best way to ensure you'll make it to the top of the list in the future. 

Summary
As we've said many times over the last 10 chapters... house sitting is an amazing way to travel, save money and experience the world in intimate detail. If you are respectful, take good care of their pets, communicate often, and leave their home clean and yard properly tended to, you will be successful house sitters and will enjoy years of exciting adventures. It's really that simple.

Oh, and don't be ax murderers.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Chapter 10 - House Sitting, The Prequel

Selling everything we owned and hitting the road wasn't a decision Charli and I made overnight...  it came from a series of events we didn't even realize were leading us here.

A few years earlier we had talked about the milestone of becoming empty nesters and had come to conclusion that we would most likely sell our house and buy a much smaller place, you know, one that was cheaper to maintain, easier to keep clean and less taxy on our property.

Around the same time, Charli had stumbled on a blog about a family of seven who had been traveling their way across Europe by house sitting. "Hey honey" she beamed, "check this out! Isn't this fascinating?" assuming I would share her enthusiasm. "Uh... sure?" I replied cautiously, with only the worst possible kind of nightmare jumping into my head. You see as a project manager, all I could think of was how much of a hassle it must be for this poor couple... trying to figure out where you would live next and not knowing what the owners or their place would be like. It sounded stressful and like nothing I would ever be interested in. But nonetheless the concept had been discovered and Charli owned it now.

Fast forward another year and suddenly Rosie was starting her junior year of high school, and the conversation about selling and downsizing surfaced once again. One thing we had always agreed on for many years was that as soon as the kids had moved on we would definitely try a new location... one that didn't involve six months of below zero weather in the winter and six months of bird-sized mosquitoes in the spring and summer (note that the omission of fall is not an error). Now it was just a matter of deciding which state to aim at.

HOWEVER... little did I know, Charli had not forgotten about this whole "house sitting" thing whereas I, on the other hand, had ejected it from my brain about 30 seconds after she first mentioned it. And then out of nowhere I get this... "Hey hon, what do you think about house sitting?"

OMG... what do I think about house sitting? Apparently Charli had buried this little nut like a squirrel, and now had dug it up to serve me for dinner.

To be honest, I really didn't know much about it. With the exception of the lunatics couple who were dragging five kids around Europe I had never really heard of it before. But I've always been open minded so I put on my yes honey, this sounds fascinating face and smiled along as Charli fantasized about wandering from state to state and house to house, while we gallivanted across the county living in other people's houses for free. "Sounds great dear," I patronized. "Let's do it!" Of course I was convinced this was just a fad that she was going through that would eventually be replaced with the more normal decision to look for a nice little house with enough room in the back yard for a garden and a grill.

But then weird stuff started to happen. Stuff that began pulling us into a lifestyle that was beyond our control.

First, Rosie had taken a major interest in marine sciences and had found a summer program for upcoming high school seniors in Florida that she wanted to attend. Then, a few weeks later my old time blogging buddy Carla put out a request on Facebook for someone to house sit for them in Hawaii for a few weeks while they went back to Seattle to attend their daughter's college graduation. Within 5 seconds of that post I left a comment claiming "FIRST!" and suggested I wanted to be the one to do it. I was mostly kidding but kinda wasn't. Then when Carla replied, "Ok Jeff, you have first dibs on the house sit" I started to believe it might be possible. Of course I now had the perfect ammunition to throw at Charli... "Hey, remember that 'house sitting' thing you were so jazzed about last year? WELLLLL?"

Strangely enough she wasn't against it. So one thing led to another and the next thing I knew we were discussing actual dates. Unfortunately, I soon learned that Carla's house sit was the EXACT SAME TIME Rosie wanted to go to Florida! BOO. Oh well, it was a nice try but it wasn't going to happen this time.

OR WAS IT?

For some reason I wasn't satisfied with just giving up so I decided to see if there was any other options for Rosie. Nope, no other dates in Florida. Nope, no other schools in Florida. Nope, no chance of telling her "Sorry honey, but dad is very selfish and wants to go to Hawaii instead. But hey, maybe next time!" And then something hit me. Wait, what about Hawaii itself? And sure enough when I looked - there it was... the University of Hawaii, Hilo had a summer semester offering of Introduction to Marine Science and Oceanography that started two days before we would be done with Carla's house sit. It was perfect!

And perfect it was. We lived in a beautiful house, taking care of a very sweet cat, spending our free time hiking to waterfalls, snorkeling in aquamarine waters and living the Hawaiian vibe. It pretty much was a dream come true. One interesting side note is that because I am required to work 8-5 US central time hours, in Hawaii I worked from 3-noon, which of course meant that I got off work right smack in the middle of the day! And also, because Hawaii is so close to the equator the sun sets shortly after 6 pm, so by 8 pm we were exhausted and ready to hit the hammock. All in all an ideal situation for what we wanted to do.

To make a long story short (I know, too late), this post is how we got to where we are today. About the same time Rosie started her freshman year in Hawaii, Charli and I decided that we were going to give this whole house sitting thing a try for the long term. The following 3 months became a blur of garage sales, donations, trash pickups, open houses, open houses and more open houses, until finally... lift-off! Dec 13, 2014 - when we piled our meager remains into our hatchback and hit the road.

And THAT, my friends, is where this post begins, and our journey continues.

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Saturday, June 13, 2015

The 10 Best Things About House Sitting

As featured in the Huffington Post here and MSN Travel here

Last year, after their 3rd child left the nest, Jeff and Charli decided to do something they had wanted to do for a long time... travel around the United States full time as house/pet sitters.

On Dec 17, 2014 the couple sold their house and everything they owned, packed their car with what they needed to travel and hit the road for the next chapter in their lives. 

Since they started house sitting, Jeff and Charli have lived in homes in Hawaii, Connecticut (nestled in the Berkshire Mountains), Sacramento, CA, and currently in the San Juan mountains of Ridgway, CO. Following this they will be sitting in Minneapolis, MN, Port Townsend, WA, Santa Fe, NM and Phoenix, AZ. Their engagements typically last from 1 - 3 months per location.

Jeff continues to work full time by telecommuting and Charli secures the bookings and pilots the mobile office. You can get more information and follow their journey on Jeff's blog.

1. You meet great people
From the home owners themselves to their friends, neighbors and locals, the relationships you form will last a lifetime. We are thrilled to have met so many new people coast to coast who we can honestly call our friends.

2. You get to enjoy LOTS of great animals!
Yes, the pets! That's what house sitting is really about. Over the last few years we have cared for cats, dogs, parrots and very soon... rats! After spending weeks or months with these beautiful animals it's actually difficult to say goodbye when it's time to leave. 

Other ads we've seen include goats, chickens, fish, reptiles and horses. We would need a bigger car if we were going take a horse to the horse park.

3. It's free
There are lots of arrangements to choose from, but we prefer the barter system where no money is exchanged for our services. We get a great place to live and the owners get someone who provides loving care for their home and pets. The bonus?... since Dec, 2014, we have not had to pay a mortgage or any of the other expenses associated with home ownership.

4. It's freeing!
Not only did we sell our house, but we also sold EVERYTHING ELSE we owned. With the exception of a couple of keepsake bins we put in storage, literally everything we own now is in (and on) the back of our car. Of course I had to become a Tetris master to make it all fit, but we still continue to downsize every trip.

After 25 years of marriage and 3 children, we were surprised at how much "stuff" we had accumulated and how difficult it was to get rid of our lifetime of belongings. However, we were also surprised at how liberating it was to shed all those possessions and become minimalists. Ok, I do miss having a motorcycle but unfortunately there's just not enough room in the hatchback for anything else.

5. You can experience the country like the locals
This was one of the main things that attracted us to house sitting. Normally when you take a vacation, you feel the need to aim at the main attractions and cram as much stuff as possible into the week or two that you are there. As locals, we get to take our time and really get to know the communities we live in. This allows us to see the hidden treasures that exist in every town and experience what makes each community or state unique. For example, we are currently living in the beautiful small town of Ridgway, CO at 8000 feet, with this view just down the road from our house.

Ridgway, CO - Population - 924, cannabis dispensaries - 3

6. You connect with family and long lost friends
A major benefit of wandering around the United States as house sitters is that you are in control of your schedule. A good example of this is how we slowly navigated our way from CT to CA by stopping in every city where almost all of our family members and old friends reside. The beauty of that is you can stay for a day, have a great visit and not leave any fish odor on the way out.

7. Your job satisfaction increases dramatically
I've always been grateful for the ability to work from home, but quite frankly, sitting in the same home office for 10 years became a bit tiresome. As a house sitter, I now have a new home office in a different place every month or so. As well, because I'm getting to travel the county and see all the major attractions I've always wanted to see, I no longer have the yearning to hurry up and get to my retirement so I can do it then. The daily grind has disappeared and punching out at the end of the day is now an invitation to get outside and see something new!

8. You will experience interesting and beautiful households
Big houses, little houses, modern houses, old houses... we've lived in them all. Some are rustic and nestled in the woods, others are fancier and in a bustling active community, with bike and hiking trails just outside the door. So far, every home we've lived in has been a delight.

9. The day trips are amazing
This is a huge bonus for people who like to get out and explore. A "day trip" means anything that is within an hour or two (or whatever the home owners are comfortable with) where you can swoop in, see the attraction and head back home before the dogs start crossing their legs. Or, when possible you take the pooches with you for a day in a state park or hiking trail along a river. In a few cases we've also hired a friend of the owners to pet sit for the night while we headed into NYC for a Broadway play or to Boston for a day of sight seeing. The possibilities are endless.

Central Park!

10. It's exciting!
All of this above adds up to one thing... a lifestyle that is different and exciting! Even the process of packing up the car and heading to the next location gives us a feeling of "Ooh... I wonder what this next town will be like!" For example from Aug-Sept we will be living in Port Townsend, WA, a small town in the northwest corner of WA that sits on the bay across from Victoria, British Columbia. You need to take two different ferries just to get to Seattle.

I mean come on... how cool is that!

“Not all those who wander are lost.” - Tolkien

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